Our buddy, Brad Kellner has a passion for University of Texas
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It’s that time of year again. Texas Longhorns. Oklahoma Sooners. Burnt Orange and White. Crimson and Cream. Bevo. The Sooner Schooner. Texas Fight. Boomer Sooner. Tens of thousands of fans will pile into the Cotton Bowl on Saturday for the 109th rendition of the Red River Showdown in Big 12 play.
The Longhorns leads the all-time series over Oklahoma 60-43-5. Since 2000, however, OU has taken nine of 14 from the Longhorns. Despite being a heavy underdog going into last year’s game, the Horns ended a 3-game losing streak against OU by taking down the 12th-ranked Sooners 36-20.
In last year’s game, the Texas defense came up big and kept the Sooners high-powered offense in check. The Horns held OU to 263 yards of total offense and forced two crucial turnovers. The Longhorns put up two non-offensive touchdowns in the game, as well. Despite being a 14-point underdog last season, the Longhorns dominated the game from start to finish. Texas led 23-10 at halftime, and at one point led its hated rivals by as many as 23 en route to a 16-point victory.
This year’s matchup with Charlie Strong as coach, at least on paper, looks very similar to 2013. The Oklahoma Sooners come into the game as a 14.5-point favorite to take down the Longhorns. OU, who was ranked 12th going into last season’s matchup, currently sits at No. 11 in the AP Top 25. The Longhorns on the other hand, had another disappointing non-conference season in 2014. For the second straight year, Texas enters the early-October matchup with multiple losses. The Horns sit at 2-3 on the season and may have even more question marks than last year’s team.
For the first time since 2007, both schools head into the Red River Rivalry coming off of a loss. Oklahoma is looking to bounce back from a 37-33 road loss at No. 25 TCU while Texas is hoping to get back in the win column after falling 28-7 to No. 7 Baylor at home. The Sooners sit at 4-1 (1-1) on the young season, and OU still has high hopes to make the College Football Playoff in 2014. Texas, on the other hand, sits at 2-3 (1-1) while expectations have fluttered for this season. While the Sooners hope to make the playoffs in 2014, Texas may just be fighting to make a bowl game.
Here’s how the two teams matchup in 2014:
Oklahoma Rush Offense vs. Texas Rush Defense:
The OU offense is loaded with talent. The strength the Sooner offense is undoubtedly the running game. Despite playing the entire season without highly touted recruit Joe Mixon, and playing the last two games without Keith Ford, the Sooners have been able to run the ball effectively in 2014. Freshman Samaje Perine has taken over as the feature back in Bob Stoops’ system. The four-star recruit, nicknamed “Tank,” leads the Big 12 in rushing and averages over 100 yards a game and five and a half yards per carry. The OU offensive line has been dominant. The average weight of the big boys up front is 325.8 pounds, which would actually rank 2nd in the NFL for beefiest O-linemen in terms of weight. The Sooner O-line has been the key to their success in 2014, and all five guys up front have next-level potential. With Ford expected to be out for the third straight week, expect Perine to get a heavy workload this Saturday.
The Texas rush defense, on the other hand, has been the weakness of an otherwise very stout defensive unit. The Longhorns allow nearly 200 yards on the ground per game, which ranks 8th out of ten in the Big 12. The recipe for success against Texas has been to pound the ball on the ground early and often to try to set up the play-action pass over the top. Despite the gaudy statistics, the Longhorns allow less than four yards per carry on the ground. The lack of steady offense has kept the Texas defense on the field for prolonged periods, and opposing teams have been able to rack up rush yards while playing with the lead. Last weekend, for example, Baylor was able to put up 278 rushing yards against the Longhorns. The Bears led from wire to wire and had no problem putting the game on ice by running the football repeatedly. 24 of Baylor’s last 32 offensive plays were runs, and the defense, understandably, began to wear down late in the game.
For Texas to have any chance to slow down the OU running game, the front four needs to get some sort of push to pave way for Steve Edmond and Jordan Hicks to make tackles near the line of scrimmage. The two seemed to be everywhere against Baylor, as the linebackers combined for 31 tackles and two sacks. The Longhorn defense, while much improved from last season, needs to do a better job tackling ball carriers that get to the 2nd level of the defense. If Texas can hold Samaje Perine to short gains on 1st and 2nd downs, the Longhorns have a chance to slow down the Sooner offense on Saturday.
Oklahoma Pass Offense vs. Texas Pass Defense:
This matchup proved to be the biggest factor in last season’s blowout win for Texas. The Longhorns were able to neutralize dual-threat quarterback Blake Bell, holding him to 133 yards through the air while forcing two interceptions and sacking him four times. This year, however, Bell plays tight end for Oklahoma and Trevor Knight has taken over the reins as OU’s quarterback. The sophomore from San Antonio took the college football world by storm after his dominant performance in last season’s 45-31 Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama. The Sooners had extremely high expectations of Knight after his 300-yard, four-touchdown performance against the Crimson Tide, but so far this season, Knight has looked fairly average in five games. The sophomore has thrown for over 1,300 yards and five touchdowns, but has also thrown five picks and is only completing 54.5 percent of his passes. To put that into perspective, Knight ranks 108th in the country in completion percentage, 36 spots behind Tyrone Swoopes. Knight ranks eighth in the Big 12 in terms of passing efficiency, as well. Despite the subpar start to 2014, Knight has obviously shown that he has the potential to blow up on any given night. He’ll be hungry after a disappointing performance against the Horned Frogs last weekend.
OU has a lot of weapons for Knight to throw to. Junior wide reciver Sterling Shepherd ranks sixth in the country in receiving yards and averages over 21 yards per catch. Shepherd has already surpassed his totals from 2013 and has become Knight’s favorite target. In last year’s meeting, the junior has schooled by the Texas secondary and finished the game without a reception. Junior Durron Neal and freshmen K.J. Young rank 2nd and 3rd in catches for OU, and both are undersized receivers who can fly.
The Longhorn pass defense has been the best part of this year’s squad. Last week, Texas held Heisman candidate Bryce Petty to just 111 yards on 7-22 passing. Petty ranked 4th in the nation in passing yards last season and the Baylor passing offense is ranked near the top in the country in almost every statistical category. In five games, Texas has allowed just 670 yards through the air, ranking 4th in the country. Dividing that into five games, the Horns lead the conference and sit 5th in the nation, allowing just 134 passing yards per game. Overall, the Longhorn defense ranks 4th in the nation with a 15.20 defensive efficiency rating. To add value and clarity to that statistic, the Texas offense has a -5.13 offensive efficiency rating.
The Texas secondary is loaded with talent. After totaling just 10 interceptions in 2013, the Horns have already picked up nine in five games in 2014. Senior captain Quandre Diggs has taken tremendous strides in his four years on the Forty Acres, and is now regarded as one of the best corners in the country. Junior Duke Thomas has improved dramatically since last season, and leads the team with two interceptions. The safeties have been the weakness of the Texas defense, but Mykkele Thompson and Adrian Colbert have held their own against the pass. The Texas pass rush has been critical to the secondary’s success. The Longhorns lead the Big 12 and are tied for 6th in the country with 20 sacks. Despite a slow start by Cedric Reed, the Longhorns have been able to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks by bringing just three or four rushers.
If the Texas pass defense can play as well as it did against Baylor, the Longhorns should be able to make the Sooners one-dimensional on offense. The game plan going into last week was to contain Bryce Petty and Baylor’s passing attack, so we’ll see how much emphasis Vance Bedford and company put on stopping Trevor Knight.
Texas Rush Offense vs. Oklahoma Rush Defense:
After the early-season injury to David Ash, the plan for the Texas offense was to keep the ball on the ground. Why wouldn’t it be? The Longhorn backfield features the top running back recruits in the nation from the classes of 2011 (Malcolm Brown) and 2012 (Johnathan Gray.) Unfortunately for Texas, neither of the two backs has lived up to their hype, and the running game has been subpar for the Longhorns through the first five weeks of the 2014 season. The Horns average 3.7 yards per carry, putting them at the bottom of the Big 12. Texas has tallied five rushing touchdowns this season, compared to 18 for Oklahoma. Neither of the Texas
running backs is even in the top 10 in the conference in rushing yards. Longhorn fans knew that the running game would have to be extremely successful to help the transition from David Ash to Tyrone Swoopes, but it has been far from that.
The main culprit for the lack of ground game has to be the Texas offensive line, or lack thereof. The O-line was put in a big hole early after senior center Dominic Espinosa fractured his leg in week 1 against UNT. The Horns suffered another loss when junior tackle Kennedy Estelle was suspended and then dismissed for violating team rules. Going into week 2 against BYU, the five Texas offensive linemen had combined for just five career collegiate starts. The lack of experience has been extremely apparent over the course of the season. The Longhorns seemingly never get any push up front, and most long rushes this season involve Gray or Brown breaking a tackle or two in the backfield. Freshman center Jake Raulerson has had communication issues with Tyrone Swoopes, as the two have fumbled exchanges twice inside the opponent’s five-yard line. The only potential positive from the offensive line could be the insertion of freshman RT Darius James, who played very well against Baylor. The Longhorns had their highest rushing total of the season last weekend (190) and hopefully that success will travel with the team to Dallas.
The OU rush defense has been very stout, allowing just over 3 yards a carry to opposing running backs. The Sooners rank 22nd in the country in terms of rush yards allowed per game. The Oklahoma front four should have its way with the struggling UT offensive line. Led by Eric Striker, the Sooner defense has 30 tackles for loss in five games, a stat that does not bode well for Texas. The OU defense is star-studded, to say the least, and despite recent struggles, could provide a big problem for the Texas running game.
Texas’s only chance to beat its northern rivals is to establish the ground game early. If Malcolm Brown and Jonathan Gray can average around 4.5-5 yards a carry and control the clock, Texas has a chance to pull off the upset. I don’t see a Texas W unless both backs have more than 100 yards on the ground.
Texas Pass Offense vs. Oklahoma Pass Defense:
There isn’t too much to talk about in terms of Texas pass offense. Despite the lack of turnovers, Tyrone Swoopes has struggled mightily in his first season as quarterback for Texas. The sophomore has seemingly made no improvements over the course of his four starts, and the Longhorn offense has sputtered because of it. The Texas defense has played well enough to win four out of five games this season, but the offense is the reason this team sits at 2-3. Swoopes ranks last or second to last in just about every passing category in the conference. The most telling statistic about Swoopes’s performance is his yards per attempt (YPA). Swoopes passes average just 5 and a half yards in the air, which proves that the coaching staff has no confidence in letting him throw the ball downfield. And they shouldn’t. None of his downfield throws have been on target. Ignoring the stats, Swoopes has done nothing to pass
the so-called “eye test.” He looks lost out there and you can tell why Case McCoy kept the job throughout last season despite being Case McCoy.
Using accurate and Tyrone Swoopes in the same sentence is almost laughable. Swoopes misses easy throws, and he misses them often. Even on the passes that are completed, Swoopes fails to hit his receivers in stride and sometimes leads them into the ground. His decision-making hasn’t been terrible, but the execution has. The offensive line has failed to give him much time to look downfield, and the sophomore has been sacked 10 times already. Swoopes, despite being touted as a dual-threat quarterback and recruited as an athlete, looks extremely slow on the field and hasn’t shown the ability to consistently make big plays with his feet. I would not be surprised to see true freshman Jerrod Heard get some snaps at some point over the next couple of weeks.
Despite the struggles, Swoopes can easily change people’s perception of him with a strong performance against Oklahoma. The Sooner defense looked terrible against the pass last weekend, allowing TCU starter Trevone Boykin to throw for 318 yards and run for another 77. The OU defense allowed 469 total yards to TCU. That came just a week after the Sooners allowed West Virginia to put up 513 yards in Morgantown. The OU defense knows that it has been struggling as of late, and reports say that members of the secondary have been meeting and working after practice to fix their mistakes. Boykin and WVU starter Clint Trickett exposed the OU secondary on multiple occasions, and Mike Stoop’s defense had a ton of missed assignments and blown coverages in both of those games. The Sooners back four features some NFL-ready players, including Zack Sanchez, who despite recent struggles, leads the Big 12 with four interceptions. The OU pass rush is also very talented and should cause a lot of problems for the Texas offensive line. Linebacker Eric Striker already has 3.5 sacks and it seems like there are two or three of him on the field at all times. Quentin Hayes and Chuka Ndulue should have big days against the weak Texas O-line.
The Longhorns hope to establish the running game early and expose the secondary by going over the top at opportune times.
Texas has struggled with special teams all season long. From penalties on kick and punt returns to allowing blocked field goals, the Longhorns have found almost every way to screw something up on special teams. Jordan Rose has had two field goals blocked over the last two weeks. UCLA return man Ishmael Adams’ 58-yard punt return may have been the difference between a Texas win and loss a few weeks ago. Baylor ran a fake punt that went for 19 yards on a 4th and 5. Texas ranks near the bottom of the Big 12 in kickoff and punt return averages, as well. Punter William Russ has been the lone bright spot for Texas, as he’s averaged a net of 41 yards on his punts this season.
Oklahoma, on the other hand, fares very well in the special teams department. The Sooners rank 7th in the country in kickoff return average. Alex Ross and Durron Neal are both elusive on returns. Senior Kicker Michael Hunnicutt was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza award last season and has a bright future playing on Sundays. He went 24-27 last year on field goals and is 7-8 so far in 2014. He became OU’s all-time leading scorer earlier this season. The Sooners have blocked two PAT’s this season and took them both back for 2-point conversions. OU has also blocked a punt this season.
The Texas Longhorns were able to win the 108th Red River Showdown last season despite being two touchdown underdogs. It seemed like everyone was picking against Texas last year, but the Horns were able to shock the college football world by blowing out Oklahoma 36-20. Texas played a dominant game defensively and had just enough offense to get the job done in 2013. Two non-offensive touchdowns proved vital in the Longhorn victory over their hated rivals.
This year, however, I don’t expect the same result. Texas had a lot of questions going into last year’s matchup, but this year’s team is even more uncertain. Even if the Texas defense plays a perfect game, the Longhorns have no chance. The offense is just that bad. It’s hard to win a game where you don’t put up any points. The Horns needed a very late touchdown against Baylor to avoid being shut out at home for the first time since 1976. The Longhorn defense held a high-powered Baylor offense to just 21 points offensively, and 7 of those came on a late game heave from Bryce Petty on 4th down.
Texas’s only chance to upset the 11th-ranked Sooners is to run the ball effectively and control the clock. That means Jonathan Gray and Malcolm Brown need to put up similar numbers to the 248 rushing yards they had in last year’s game. Every member of the offensive line needs to play the game of his life for Texas to have any chance. If the Horns can hold the ball for long periods of time and keep the combined score of the game under 40 points, Texas can get the victory.
Unfortunately, I don’t see this happening. Oklahoma is way too talented on both sides of the ball and the Sooners are hungry after losing to TCU last week and losing to Texas last season. Oklahoma’s offensive line should pose a big problem to the Texas front seven and I expect Samaje Perine to have a huge day. The Sooners also have way more skill and speed on defense than any team that Texas has seen this year. OU won’t be overlooking the Longhorns this year and I expect the Sooners to have no problem taking down Texas at the Cotton Bowl this Saturday.
Predicted Score: Oklahoma 34 Texas 10